By Elise Labott
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is sprinting to the finish as America's top diplomat, preparing for a high-profile hearing on the deadly Benghazi attack and two signature opportunities to have the last word on her tenure.
Clinton, who returned to work last week after battling a virus and a blood clot, is aggressively tackling her work load, even as official Washington gets ready to pause for President Barack Obama's second inaugural on Monday.
Sandwiched between the inaugural and Thursday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Sen. John Kerry to replace her, Clinton will testify before House and Senate committees on Benghazi.
Her appearance on Wednesday was originally scheduled in December, but was postponed as she confronted health issues.
Lawmakers are eager to question her in public about the terror assault on the Benghazi diplomatic post that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Some have sharply criticized security at the compound as well as the Obama administration's slow-to-develop explanation of events in the days that followed the attack.
Clinton has ordered that all of the recommendations of an independent review of the attack be as close to full implementation as possible before she answers questions about the incident publicly.
On Kerry, Clinton's aides say she has been speaking with him almost daily to discuss the job and prepare him for a seamless transition, should he be confirmed.
Clinton is scheduled to introduce Kerry before the foreign relations panel, which he has chaired.
It is expected that Kerry will receive swift approval from committee members. But the panel must wait at least a week before taking its vote. That would be followed by consideration of the full Senate.
With the Kerry nomination possibly on track to wrap up quickly, Clinton will turn to events that could allow her to have the last word on a number of issues before she steps out the door to a future some speculate could include a presidential run in 2016.
The first event, on January 29, will be a global town-hall style forum at the State Department. She has held a number of these so-called "townterview" events while traveling, but this will be the first for her at the State Department.
At the town hall, Clinton will take questions from an audience and online, social media, and broadcast participants.
She will then give a valedictory address on January 31 to the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, on American leadership.
Although there is no date-certain, her last day could come as early as February 1, if the nomination process for Kerry, plays out as expeditiously as possible.
"She's entering a period that she has not experienced in a very long time. She will wake up on Monday, February 4, and not have to be anywhere she doesn't want to be," said Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines, in an interview with CNN.
But Reines demurred when asked if, in fact, the preceding Friday would be her last day.